Translator: Adam Seacord
2 weeks had passed since we moved to the Water Gate City of Abram. We took over the Assassin’s Guild in the first two days, and spent the next three to secure a place of residence. Even after looking into the brothel previously run by the Assassin’s Guild and turning Lily and Dora into monsters, only a week had passed in Abram. A week after that was spent on doing business, on the front and back side.
Dora had been melted down by everyone, and taken by me with barely enough power to think… To successfully turn in to a monster. A war cat. Perhaps in reflection of Dora’s dual-sided nature, when she’s acting as the lady of the brothel, all monstrous features disappeared from her body. Only when she wasn’t putting on an act, did her cat ears and tail show, in addition to smooth and soft hair all over her body. She had quickly mastered satisfying men with her tail, too… Although she says that “one day, my hands were full, and I tried grabbing the bottle of booze behind my with my tail. It’s more useful than I thought!” Even the hemorrhoid that concerned her so much had been cured. “My life turned upside down.” As she put it.
I was having Dora gradually turn all the other prostitute into monsters, too. Of course, it would be stupid to have their bodies undergone a major change, and telling the prostitutes, who owe no loyalty to me, my secret would bring nothing but danger. Also, there was no need to have them understand that they had been turned.
According to Dora, she introduced me to the girls as a warlock who uses magic by taking women in bed, and that I could make them prettier and healthier. I was astonished that this passed for an explanation, but on second thought, half of the girls just took it as a health exercise through sex, and their bodies, by turning into monsters, did undergo positive changes by sleeping with me. There were no complaints.
Let me add that, bringing the experienced prostitutes to climax had proven difficult, so Dora was always with me for support. …I had learned some valuable lessons, I must admit.
Many of the prostitutes were not stupid, but simply lacked the opportunity for education, and could not read nor write. That may be why they could easily accept what was to me a ludicrous backstory without understanding it too well.
The trust the prostitutes had for Dora was truly impressive. Of course, consider the limitation of my stamina and time in the day, I could only turn one or two girls a day… But after another week, all prostitute (including those who commute) would be turned into monsters.
While maintaining minimal changes to their appearance, I listened to as much requests from the girls as I could fulfil with my power about changing their appearance to gain experience in changing others to monsters. I was not able to perform any body modifications before, but I was now able to change small details on the surface, like taking away freckles or changing hair colors. When the monsters I had created sleep with their customers, a small amount of their energy is taken away, and ends up with me as miniscule drops of magical power. This didn’t add up to much yet, but with more monsters and business booming at the Spider’s Web, I might be able to count on a similar amount of magical powers coming my way as the man-eating dungeon in the mine village. If business went well enough to secure another brothel, that would mean more magical powers for me. There was no such thing as too much magic. On that note, business at the Spider’s Web was not going too well. I needed a plan to change that.
Miyabi, the Lamia girl who used to be the head of the Assassin’s Guild was a monster worked for me obediently since I had defeated her. I had seen for her protection myself, apart from the Assassin’s Guild. I occasionally visited her lair in the depths of the underground waterways. Her broken arm didn’t heal immediately, but she had told me the pain mostly subsided in a week. She always wished to present her body to me as a token of loyalty, which left me with gratitude and a bittersweet conundrum. Although I had guided her to do so, she really wants me. I was set to sleep with Miyabi as soon as she had healed, but… It wasn’t that I found her appearance repulsive in any way, but the logistics of doing it with a woman whose lower half was that of a snake, was quite a conundrum.
I left Diana and Chana in charge of regrouping the Assassin’s Guild, and allowed them to take some liberty. The Assassin’s Guild had lost a little trust in the shadowy parts of Abram after failing the request of House Lambert. It seemed that people were waiting to see how Diana would handle the guild after bumping of to the leader of the guild. In Abram, there was another organization than the Assassin’s Guild that dealt in the same sort of violent methods. Not the knights, soldiers, or mercenaries, but the Thief’s Guild, which provided a give-and-take relationship to the thieves in town. For the members of the Thief’s Guild, the Assassin’s Guild, that has been running around without waiting for negotiations were certainly in their way. Once they had gotten word of the Assassin’s Guild weakening, they were sure to make a move.
That being said, there were multiple Thief’s Guilds in Abram alone, and they didn’t always get along. After speaking with Diana, we contacted one of the Thief’s Guild that had many adventures as its member, and managed to create a temporary place for our Guild by paying them. That created some restrictions, but the Assassin’s Guild had few members to begin with. I wanted to avoided having them picked apart, and losing my pawns through meaningless bloodshed.
In the end, with Shiro’s suggestion as an ex-adventurer, we joined forces with the faction that seemed the most calm, but not too powerful. We decided to rock the balance of power among the Thief’s Guilds, to make them keep check of each other. This plan seemed to be going well, mostly… So far.
I stationed Fred and Harry at Chana’s, and used them as a pipeline to Diana, while they learned reading, writing, and other subjects. The system of taking over their minds from a remote location, which I had built in when I turned them, proved especially useful here. I was able to obtain information from a location that had nothing to do with the Assassin’s Guild. My cover being blown would be a detrimental problem for me. I was weak. Even members of the Assassin’s Guild don’t all operate under the same volition. Even Diana, who has sworn her loyalty to me, may not be completely loyal to me, and it was always possible that information would leak in ways that I wasn’t aware of.
So, I needed to keep my shadowy side hidden as much as possible, as well as my connections to the Assassin’s Guild, and my relationship with Olivia and Sara. Setting Sara up to work at the castle worked out well.
Since Sara was a witch, there was nothing suspicious about her coming to my store that sold magical items. She wouldn’t be able to visit often, but at a pace of once a week, no one would be the wiser. Besides, I could visit Sara’s place with Daria under the guise of delivering a catalyst for a spell. No one would think (although they might fantasize) that I would take another woman to Sara’s and sleep with them both at the same time.
I hadn’t seen Olivia since the last time, but we both knew we were busy.
…I would like to see her somehow, but at this rate, I would be happy to speak to her once a month or so.
As a magical items salesman, I must have drawn some attention form the people of Abram. But, I presumed that wouldn’t last for long. Once mercenaries and adventurers start to come in as customers, my shop would blend right in. People with that sort of occupation strived for a reputation as a necessity. Many of them presented themselves in unique appearances, and many of them tried to gain the acquaintance of my old colleague Sara, who was now the court magician.
While the shop didn’t bring in much revenue on its own, it began to see reasonable foot traffic after a week or so. People mostly came to say hello or check out the place for the first few days, but around this time, knights that work at the castle had begun to peak their heads in. They let me know that it was all because of the knight Layla who I had met on the day I moved in.
She had mentioned some items she had seen in my shop, which reached by word of mouth to the knights and soldiers at the castle. I decided to gift her the most reasonable item she had her eyes on, a pair of gloves, as a token of gratitude for her part in advertising my shop. While these gloves were magical items, the cost was kept low since I made them myself (if I didn’t consider the money spent training for the skill to make them).
A pair didn’t cost more than an evening at a relatively high-class restaurant. Once, a middle-class lady purchased it for the style. Layla may have been stoic, but I never expected her to reject a gift of that price… Until she said that she “couldn’t accept anything, unless I was a lady of your land…” And meant it.
Her stubbornness went leaps and bounds beyond mine. After a nearly endless debate, Daria finally settled the matter by suggesting that “what if he lent it to you, and it will be good advertising for the shop as well.” Layla still looked guilty, but now showing a little joy, as she wore her gloves home.
…Usually, knights work for lords who own their own territory or estate, which meant they lived in their master’s manor, or had their own quarters. Albeit in a middle to upper class area of town, it was rare to see a knight who rented a room, just like an artisan or a merchant did.
Besides, when you would see her in the streets, she would be wearing a down to earth (although well-made) outfit, and never showed off her master’s crest nor her own house’s. She wasn’t a mercenary nor a soldier, but she was always something a little different from a knight.
I was afraid that asking her directly would come across as some kind of inquisition, and I had heard that Gustav’s mercenary team would return to Abram in a few weeks, by the time summer rolls around. If I still cared to then, I would ask them about her.
It was early summer. For someone who toiled away under his roof like a mole throughout the day, the sun was beginning to sting. My face in the light belonged to an owner who just opened a magical items shop in Abram. My face in the shadows belong to the ruler of the Assassin’s Guild and owner of a brothel. And both of them were merely masked to hide my identity as a monster, and my monstrous subjects.
Still, I had formed relationships with too many people to call my entire lifestyle a lie, and I was beginning to understand that every aspect of my life only represented one side of me.
If something happened, could I rip away the mask and walk away, just like I did when I left my home town, of the village with the mines?
With those thoughts on my mind, I grew my reputation in the light, as the magical items merchant of Abram, without anyone discovering my face in the shadows, nor my true self under that. I need to prepare to weave my web around this town like a spider.
There was only one reason why I gathered my strength in this town. There was someone I had to eliminate in order to stabilize Olivia’s power. House Lambert, who would undoubtedly continue to come after Olivia to gain power for themselves. I had to prepare a situation that gave me as much advantage as possible for when the time came for me to make my move.
Nearly a month had passed, and Gustav’s mercenary team returned from fighting on the eastern border, along with the nobles of Abram (their employers). Of course, there were no noteworthy battles but only small clashes that trickled on, so there were no real casualties. It was a homecoming that was superficially grandiose for the mercenaries who had just earned some easy money at a breezy battlefield.
I had brought Daria to the piazza in front of the castle, where I once stood beside Astarte. My neighboring merchants had invited me to come watch the homecoming parade.
Gustav had observantly spotted me, which caused his jaw to drop. …I had left a message at the mercenaries’ hangout, but of course, he had had no chance to receive the message before I spotted me. He looked like he saw a ghost, so he was sure to drown me in nasty remarks later.
Oh, I can’t believe how nostalgic it makes to think that I can drink and be marry with that old man.
For the first time in a while, a genuine smile cracked on my face… And it froze. I could tell that it did.
「What’s wrong, Master Elliot? …Is that… Layla-san… Over there?」
I could hear Daria, who must have followed my gaze. Before, I was standing next to Astarte.
Give me a break. This must be the Trickster God’s favorite hangout.
I exhaled lightly, and fixed my smiling mask of the good-natured shop keep. I harkened to see if the shop keepers around me had noticed, but no one seemed to have caught that.
The knights stationed in Abram were the ones who welcomed the homecoming knight. A few, most likely very skilled, members of them right out of the castle on a horse through the piazza, and greet the army. One of those members, was Layla. With her back straightened, and her hand calming the grey, rambunctious military horse showed experience. She kept her horse moving forward without her eyes straying from in front of her. She was a proud knight.
The problem was… There it was, on the shield she held. A colorfully drawn tower and griffon. The emblem of House Lambert.